Thomas Friedman, New York Times 12/25/12Thomas Friedman, a superstar of the mainstream press, has produced a remarkably sensible statement about one of the most vexing issues of our time, though he doesn’t grasp its meaning in any depth.
Friedman’s main point in this piece is that the Israel Lobby should call off its attack dogs, who were, at the time, savaging ex-Senator and ex-Marine Chuck Hagel, who was nominated to be Secretary of Defense in the second Obama administration. Make no mistake, Hagel has affronted Israel, especially when, as Senator, he made the righteous statement that “The Jewish Lobby intimidates a lot of people up here” [on Capitol Hill, but] “I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.” Of course the Zionist watchdogs will howl about this, or anything that implies that Jews might seek power and play rough in doing so.
But the fact of the matter is that whether you call it Jewish or Israel, the Lobby’s frank goal is to secure the power of a state explicitly for the Jewish people, as it systematically denies equal rights to non-Jews, even if they are born there. To stave this off, the charge of anti-Semitism is reflexively hurled, with remarkable yet effective stupidity.
But Hagel went further than this. He denounced the Iraq War that Israel and its lobbies, along with the neoconservatives, foisted on the United States. He is no less critical of the Iran War the same bodies are urging upon us now. And he has gone so far as to say that “The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated. … So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.” Sacre bleu!
Whatever befalls Hagel), Friedman is right to conclude that his candidacy is a step forward and a sign that Israel is now becoming more a liability to the United States than an asset. But it is no more than a step; and he goes off the rails if he thinks that the telling of such a truth will save Israel from national suicide. Friedman, like everyone I know of in official political culture, assumes that Israel is a rational actor on the international stage and will obey the calculus of reward and punishment that regulates the conduct of states with one another. The presumption is if you tell it the truth, and even pull back U.S. support, Israel will get the message, reflect, and change its ways.
To a degree, Israel will do this, pulling back here, co-operating there, making nice when necessary, carefully crafting its message using smooth propagandizing and the most up-to-date social science. But this is simply tactical, and neither predicts nor explains the behavior of the Zionist state in depth, any more than an individual sociopath can be explained by the fact that he obeys traffic signals while driving to the scene of his crime.
The truth about Israel is the unfolding of the Zionist logic embedded in its system, which gives rises to the delusion that an ethnocratic state can be democratic. It is amazing that this gross contradiction is celebrated instead of treated with the derision it deserves. I would venture to speculate that this stems from a link between what Judaism is credited with, as the source of the notion of a just God; and what Democracy is supposed to bring, as the universalization of a just society. However, neither of these propositions can live up to their potential, as things stand. How can a just God be the exclusive deity of a very small subset of humanity who have taken power with an aggressive state, and continue, day by day, to seek the extermination of the people it has displaced? How can democracy be authentic so long as it remains under class domination? And how can America tell Israelthis truth, when it is at least as great a practitioner of the crimes of empire and the awful injustice of its classist society?
Yet the Hagel case, along with much else we have no room to take up here, does raise the question of whether the bizarre Special Relationship may now be drawing to a close. Nothing abrupt can be expected after so much entanglement at so many levels: this includes the invasion by Zionism of academia, Christian churches and the cultural and journalistic elements of US civil society; the interpenetration of the two militaries; and a great deal of residual influence by ardently Zionist neoconservatives. But there is no doubt the “Israel as liability” faction is stronger in the United States than at anytime since the Eisenhower administration, and there is no structural reason to expect its retreat.
There is yet another kind of resistance, beyond hatred and of greater potential importance, which grows from Israeli crimes against Palestine. It consists of a dialectical negation across much of the world and very widely affecting youth, including Jewish youth, especially in the United States. It arises as conscientization, it is watered by tears and grows from pain and agony, and it engenders solidarity. It takes shape through the non-violent BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) movement, led by an alliance of Palestinians and a saving remnant of Israeli activists along with their global counterparts; and it means in practice that mighty Israel with its war machine cannot escape the reach of justice.
As we await the dreadful transformation of Israel into an apartheid state with the annexation of the West Bank, we might keep in mind the observations of Ehud Olmert, successor to Ariel Sharon two Prime Ministers ago. Once this happens, Olmert observed, the hope of a Palestinian state would vanish. Then, he continued, a full South African situation will have been attained, and once the reaction to this takes hold, a new global anti-appartheid movement, “Israel would be no more.”